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My Love/Hate Relationship with “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”

Film Review The Amazing Spider-man 2 Marvel


David Ives - published on 05/02/14

Cringe-worthy filmmaking at times, but still entertaining for the “regular Joe” in me.

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I have a few secret identities, you know. It’s true.

Folks around these parts know me as Movie Reviewer Guy, that bespectacled avenger who prowls the darkened multiplexes in order to root out filmatic evil in whatever form it may take. Armed with a passable knowledge of filmcraft, it is Movie Reviewer Guy’s sworn duty to protect the wallets and leisure time of innocent moviegoers from such cinematic sins as dubious directing, suspicious scriptwriting, and atrocious acting.

However, when not in the guise of Movie Reviewer Guy, I’m really just ordinary ol’ Charlie Channelflipper, a fellow who’ll watch almost anything as long it has an iota of entertainment value and doesn’t require him to go to confession the next day. That guy is more than willing to trade quality for a much needed smile. For the majority of the time these two personas get along just fine. Movie Reviewer Guy carries out his weekly patrol here at Aleteia and, for the most part, Charlie stays out of the way.

But every now and then you get a movie like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and you just know there’s going to be trouble between the two parties.

Now here’s a film that seems almost purposely made to antagonize Movie Reviewer Guy. It’s primary offense is that it has serious script problems. The movie starts off as a rollicking super-hero action flick, takes a quick turn into emo territory, dips its toes into spy movie waters, decides it might like to be Batman Forever for awhile, changes its mind and becomes a teenage rom-com instead, and finally realizes it really wants to be seen as an inspirational character defining tale in the vein of Superman: The Movie. Add to all of that confusion a number of unnecessary scenes which exist for no other reason than to set up the potential for Sony to turn Spider-Man into a multi-character franchise ala The Avengers, plus one scene involving an airliner that I think might have been part of another film that got accidentally edited into this one, and you end up with a complete mess.

Complain about the formulaic Disney Marvel movies all you want, but you have to admit it’s a formula that results in cohesive stories with a consistent tone. Not so with The Amazing Spider-Man 2, it lurches and sputters along like a car missing a couple of spark plugs.

None of this helps the actors, of course. Andrew Garfield is fine as the titular hero, but the more the movie concentrates on the teenage drama, the more his Peter Parker is shoehorned into being a whinier version of Lloyd Dobler from Say Anything. Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy fares a little better, but only until the finale when the script requires her to become inexplicably stupid and self-endangering. The three – count’em three – super-villains are all over the place. Despite his prominence in the trailers, Paul Giamatti’s crazed Rhino gets surprisingly little screen time, so there’s not much to say about him. Jamie Foxx’s Electro, on the other hand, is front and center for much of the running time, and Movie Reviewer Guy could easily spend a lot of time discussing his performance.

For brevity’s sake, however, we’ll limit the critique to two words: cringe-inducing.

In fairness, once he’s in the Electro make-up, Foxx is suitably menacing, but before he makes the transformation, in those scenes where the movie is establishing his character’s motivations… ugh. Just, ugh. His character is written so campy that it wouldn’t feel out of place if he had been shown hanging out with Adam West and Burt Ward.

And finally there’s Dane DeHaan, who does okay as the sullen rich kid, Harry Osborn, but is just a bit too boyish to be threatening as the Green Goblin. Who knows what the filmmakers were going for with his makeup design? Maybe by turning the Green Goblin into a nerd with bad skin, greasy hair, and long fingernails, they were trying to take a subtle metatextual jab at some of the irate comic book fans who derided the first
Amazing Spider-Man. Whatever the reason, the look doesn’t quite work.

So there’s a lot wrong withThe Amazing Spider-Man 2. And yet, despite all of Movie Reviewer Guy’s protestations, Charlie, that fellow who just wants to be entertained, actually kind of enjoyed a lot of the film.

The first ten minutes of the movie, which begins with Spider-Man joyfully swinging through the steel canyons of New York City to the strains of Hans Zimmer’s bombastic score and ends with him joining the police in chasing down some thugs who have hijacked a truck full of radioactive material, is probably the purest translation of the character ever to hit the big screen. It’s all there, his iconic poses as he moves through the air, his intimate connection to the Big Apple (he’s literally attached to the city by his web lines), his love/hate interaction with street level law enforcement, his corny jokes as he fights the criminals.

And don’t get Charlie started on the costume. Has there been a better version of the costume than this one? Look at those big white eyes for crying out loud! Honestly, if Charlie had walked out of the theater after the opening sequence, he would have gladly told anyone who asked that he had just watched the best Spider-Man movie ever made.

It’s true, of course, that the movie as a whole doesn’t live up to the first ten minutes, but there are still some good, entertaining moments throughout. There are worse ways to spend an evening besides watching Spider-Man put on a New York Fire Fighters helmet and using a water hose to fight a guy made out of electricity. It’s also true that the film spends an inordinate amount of time on the romantic comedy segments, bordering at points on the irritating, but the two leads do have good acting chops and a decent chemistry together, so it’s not like it’s complete torture watching them continuously break up and get back together. This isn’t Twilight with spandex. Besides, given that all the emotional weight of the movie hinges on the audience being invested in the Peter/Gwen relationship, it’s hard to fault the movie for taking a little time to build it up.

And while there’s nothing at all wrong with Movie Reviewer Guy’s preference for deep, complex scripts with various levels of subtext that require hours of thought to sort through, Charlie was more than satisfied with The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s simple, old-school comic book morality. Spidey has his adventures and there’s a lesson for him to be learned at the end about suffering and the necessity of hope. And the audience doesn’t have to ferret this meaning out because a character actually gives a little speech at the end of the movie about suffering and the necessity of hope.

In fact, this person comes really, real
ly close to quoting the writings of Pope Benedict XVI where he confirms, “To have Christian hope means to know about evil and yet to go to meet the future with confidence.” And it is imperative that we do this because “the loss of joy does not make the world better – and, conversely, refusing joy for the sake of suffering does not help those who suffer. The contrary is true. The world needs people who discover the good, who rejoice in it and thereby derive the impetus and courage to do good.” Charlie Channelflipper kind of appreciated the fact that his eleven year kid who attended the movie with him got to hear that message about hope rather than just another bland recitation of the “believe in yourself” mantra.

So you can see my quandary with The Amazing Spider-Man 2. I don’t know which of my alter-egos to tell you to listen to. Movie Reviewer Guy is right in that there’s a lot of bad filmmaking going on here, and if that’s the most important thing to you, then you should probably avoid this one. But Charlie makes a good point too, because there’s an even chance that despite all the movie’s faults, you’ll still walk out of the theater feeling entertained by the whole cheesy affair. I guess it’s a coin toss. Where’s Two-Face when you need him?

In a world he didn’t create, in a time he didn’t choose, one man looks for signs of God in the world by… watching movies. When he’s not reviewing new releases for Aleteia, David Ives spends his time exploring the intersection of low-budget/cult cinema and Catholicism at The B-Movie Catechism.

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